British Armour in the Normandy Campaign 1944 (Military History and Policy) Paperback – 6 Apr 2006
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About the Author
John Buckley is Senior Lecturer in War Studies and History at the University of Wolverhampton. He is the author of The RAF and Trade Defence 1919-1945: Constant Endeavour (1995) and Air Power in the Age of Total War (1998).
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Top customer reviews
As others have said, this is a revisionist account, mainly concerning itself with countering the prevailing notion that British armour performed poorly in Normandy. This book is not one filled with soldiers individual accounts, it is an examination of British armour (and to some extent the Army as a whole) - why they fought the way they did, both in Normandy and throughout the war, and why some of the interpretations of the campaign about the British are incorrect, or at least misleading.
The book is very thorough, examined tactics and doctrine, morale, design, planning and production, and 'the tank gap' (comparison to opposing German tanks). There is repetition (unsurprising and unavoidable), and while noticeable, it is not irritating - and can indeed be quite beneficial if you are not reading the book in a short period.
I would thoroughly recommend this as essential literature to anyone with an interest in the Normandy Campaign or the British Army during World War II, or anyone with an interest in military doctrine and the way it shapes performance. It is well written and researched, and it was both enjoyable and useful to read.
The key issue Buckley highlights is that the apparent failure of the British armour is based on the erroneously perceived vision of how armoured warfare should be conducted based off the likes of the France 1940 campaign "Blitzkrieg"; an event that had been superseded by newly developed weapons and tactics. Additionally while the initial Overlord plan had called for deep penetrations into Normandy by armour; terrain, logistical issues, and German opposition made this not possible and thus the armoured divisions fought a battle that they had not trained nor prepared for - to be used in an attritional battle as battering rams. Likewise as the campaign progressed German tactics altered to combat the Anglo-Canadian attacks, leading to in-depth defences while they concentrated the majority of their armoured forces, and better quality divisions committed to Normandy, to halt the progress of the British and Canadian forces.
Buckley looks into the doctrine and the issues of how the divisions and independent brigades were suppose to fight; he highlights the lack of common doctrine and the problems this entailed but also of how this presented the various units with flexibility and actually, after some problems, allowed them to learn how to fight in an effective manner. The overarching point made is that the British armoured forces fought in a different way to the German Heer or Waffen SS Panzer arm and cannot be straight up compared to the idealised view of what armoured warfare was based off the misconception of what happened in France 1940 etc; the British approach was different, it had its problems, but in the end was successful - the British armour did not fail in Normandy.
Buckley highlights that contrary to popular perception the vast majority of armour committed to Normandy, by the German armed forces, was comparable or even outclassed by British tanks and anti-tank weaponry. While the "big cats" posed a real problem to British armour, they too were vulnerable; that at the end of the day the battle was not so one sided in the tank realm. On the other hand he does note that all allied tanks (in part due to the below issues) were vulnerable to German anti-tank weapons - including the most heavily armoured Churchill model.
Buckley also looks at the design and production of British tanks; the reliability issue facing the initial models, how this and the need to re-equip the expanding army following the Fall of France, experience in the desert, rushed production, and various legislation, not relaxed until mid-war, held up design work and influenced development. This coupled with the acceptance of the M4 Sherman and medium velocity 75mm gun, which was a compromise to have tanks equipped with a weapon that could successfully knock out soft skinned vehicles and anti-tank guns, saw that by the time Overlord was planned it was too late to stop current production/supply and introduce new tank models - these models then only becoming available later in 1944. With that said he also discusses the Firefly project, showing that while tank design had been poor during the early war period, it had improved while research, development, and innovation of new anti-tank guns and ways of using them was top class.
To sum up, in this excellent study Buckley shows the pros and cons of the British armoured force of 1944 and how they adopted what they had to fight their own unique and ultimately successful campaign.
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